One week after the Federal Bureau of Investigation released some additional
information about its Carnivore surveillance system, an independent reviewer
said the tool pretty much does what the bureau said it does: monitor e-mail.
Dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law
Henry H. Perritt said Tuesday that Carnivore, which was designed to collect
e-mail going to or from a criminal suspect, could be improved, but was not a
product that reveals more information than the FBI first claimed. His team
said Carnivore used a software filter that constrains the amount of
information the FBI can collect.
The FBI unwittingly triggered an outcry from privacy advocates last week
when it released documents that some vigorous opponents of Carnivore
interpreted as proof that the tool captures additional Internet traffic,
which the FBI had summarily denied in previous months. The advocates fear
the FBI can access the e-mail of innocent people not under investigation.
Those documents came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Electronic
Privacy Information Center (EPIC) through the Freedom of Information Act
Opponents of the surveillance tool say it’s not just a question of the tool
being technically sound, which Perritt said seems to be its biggest fault:
It’s a matter of analyzing the law under which Carnivore is deemed legal and
deciding if privacy is appropriately protected.
“The little information that has become public raises serious questions
about the privacy implications of this technology,” EPIC general counsel
David Sobel said this week. “The American public cannot be expected to
accept an Internet snooping system that is veiled in secrecy.”
Privacy advocates have accused the independent team of being government
insiders as at least one member has worked for the Department of Justice.
Perritt himself advised President Clinton’s transition team on information
policy and performed other tasks for the Clinton administration.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is one such opponent, who claims the
FBI is “whitewashing” the situation. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman
Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is another strong vocal opponent.
The feds must be thinking they can’t win as the recent challenges seem to be
a reprise of complaints lodged in September before the Senate committee.
Internet pioneer Vint Cerf was treated to a private review of the system and found it to be as it was advertised by the
EPIC sounded the alarm in October when it said the FBI was at work with a more expansive suite of
surveillance tools than Carnivore, called Dragon Ware.
Additional details of the independent review will be released later Tuesday.